France’s 'hypocritical' spying claims 'hide real scandal'

Photo: AFP

French President François Hollande on Monday demanded that the US “immediately stop” snooping on European internet and telecommunications. For many, the French leader is 'the pot calling the kettle black'.


French President François Hollande’s demand Monday that the US National Security Agency (NSA) stop snooping on European communications has been greeted with a certain amount of derision across the water.

“France should remember its own history before complaining too much about American espionage,” wrote Sashank Joshi, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, in the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

In the same vein, influential US magazine Foreign Policy branded Hollande’s outrage at the latest spying revelations “hypocrisy”, under the headline “Espionage? Moi?”

‘France the evil empire’

While China tops the list of countries engaging in cyber-espionage, according to a report published February by the US secret services, France shares second place with Russia and Israel, leading Foreign Policy to describe Hollande’s outrage as “pretty hilarious”.

Colourful stories about the lengths the French secret services would go to emerged in the early 1990s, such as the bugging of seats on Air France planes to eavesdrop on American business leaders.

At the time, then-CIA director Stansfield Turner qualified French intelligence as “the most predatory service in the world, now that the old Soviet Union is gone”.

And the Americans are not the only country to have complained about French espionage.

Leaks threaten trade talks

France said Wednesday that it wants a "temporary suspension" of key EU-US trade talks over recent spying allegations leaked by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a 2009 US diplomatic cable revealed by Wikileaks, an unnamed German CEO of a satellite manufacturer was quoted calling France “the evil empire, stealing technology, and Germany knows this”, adding that French industrial spying was doing as much damage as anything coming from Russia or China.

Putting a scandal ‘on the back burner’

In France, one intelligence expert contacted by FRANCE 24 dismissed the criticism as part of a foggy media-political attempt to shift the blame game away from “the real story”.

“All the statements and stories reported in the American press are only very small pieces of a much larger puzzle,” said Éric Denécé, director of the French Centre of Intelligence Research.

“It amounts to virtually nothing in the world of espionage – a world in which it is impossible to see things in anywhere near their true scale.”

Dénéce insisted that the US and Britain were just as guilty as France in wanting to “distort reality”.

“For every act of French espionage, the British are probably doing five, and the Americans 100,” he said, adding that France had far fewer resources for espionage activities than either of these countries, or even Germany – and that the latest revelations may even prove to be a boon for the US.

“[US President] Barack Obama and [US Secretary of State] John Kerry are absolutely right when they say there is nothing new in these pseudo-revelations,” he said.

“Everyone knows that the US has been spying on Europe for decades. And the US public is hardly going to hold it against their government for keeping close tabs on what is going on in other countries.”

Meanwhile, the media and political backlash aimed at France is diverting attention from the real scandal, Dénécé argues.

“While the media is spouting this nonsense about French hypocrisy, the real story is being lost – namely that the NSA is spying on its own citizens,” he said. “This story is being deliberately put on the back burner.

“The Prism spying programme, along with the US Patriot Act and the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, betrays the US as a country obsessed with its international dominance and by internal security,” he said. “The US is looking more and more like a police state.”


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